Hamilton City Hall Credit: Joey Coleman

The Hamilton Police Services Board was using a GMail account for public business.

The Public Record learned of the GMail account hpsbchair@gmail.com when the Police Board’s Administrator Kirsten Stevenson included in it an email exchange.

Stevenson states the “email address was temporary and only used on one occasion so I did not have to copy the Chair using her personal account. I managed this account and it is no longer being utilized.”

The new Police Board Chair is Pat Mandy, who took over on the Board after Mayor Fred Eisenberger resigned from the Board on November 16.

On Wednesday, December 15, Stevenson responded to a September 17 email requesting public documents, cc’ing the GMail account.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Stevenson ignored the September public information request until last week when TPR began the process of filing a formal complaint to Tribunals Ontario.

The Police Board held a secret emergency meeting on September 2nd to discuss making the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a paid holiday for Hamilton Police Service Employees. The Board claims holding this discussion in public would reveal confidential legal information

TPR is asking the Tribunal to find this closed meeting was a violation of the open meeting requirement of the Public Services Act.

Upon learning of the use of Gmail accounts by the Police Board, TPR asked Stevenson “who is in control of this account, when was it created, and how are you as Administrator ensuring proper recording retention in compliance with Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act?”

Stevenson’s response, quoted verbatim above, is that the account was only used once and only to respond to TPR. 

Stevenson did not explain why the Police Board members were not using their police board email accounts.

Shortly after learning that the Police Board uses Gmail for official business, TPR contacted Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commission for comment.

“Our office recommends that staff and leaders of public institutions strictly control the use of instant messaging and personal email accounts for conducting business (see our guidance on Instant Messaging and Personal Email Accounts). To the maximum extent possible, staff should only use work-issued email accounts. This is particularly the case since the onset of the pandemic when many public sector staff are working from home (see our July 2020 Privacy Fact Sheet on Working from Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic),” the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario wrote in response.

“Access to information is a core pillar of democracy. Ontarians expect transparency about government activities in order to hold their governments accountable. Requests for information cannot be evaded by using instant messaging or personal email accounts.”

TPR is filing freedom of information requests for all emails sent to this account, a listing of all non-public sector email and instant messaging services used by the Police Board, and all records contained within those services.